Many Cleveland Cavaliers fans were hurt by LeBron James’ decision to leave the wine and gold for the second time in his career but once a person would realize that, given the opportunities that Los Angeles can provide for James off the court, along with being able to play for the Lakers, would be a tough decision to pass up for anyone, not just No. 23.
Cavs general manager Koby Altman seems to have those same feelings. For the first time since No. 23 decided to go to the west coast, Altman decided to speak publicly about the decision, expressing his feelings as well, prior to the Cavaliers first Summer League game Friday night.
“When you first get hit with it, there is a level of hurt,” Altman told a small group of reporters, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “You’re hurt because of what you went through for the four years with him and what he meant to us. But I was extremely thankful at the same time. I realize what we accomplished this year and the last four years, and we did a lot. I mean, it was four incredible years led by him, and I’m very thankful for the years he gave our team, this organization, the city.
“I think this was a decision largely for him, and he deserved that. He deserved to make this decision for him and his career and what he wanted to do. So we can’t take it personally. We’re not bitter. We’re thankful and happy that he spent the last four years with us, and again, I personally have a lot of gratitude for what he did for my career as well, what he’s meant for me. I have a championship ring. That’s an incredible thing that we accomplished. So, no, we’re very thankful.”
From the moment Altman was promoted to general manager after owner Dan Gilbert decided to let go of David Griffin, the 35-year-old had his hands full. During his first season, he was busy trying to maximize the roster, knowing that it could be James’ last season in Cleveland while trying his best to help the Cavs make their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. He, like many Cavs fans, invested his heart and soul into not taking the King for granted. For that, his emotions forced him to be a bit hurt when he found out James was going to Los Angeles, but it didn’t take away from anything that James brought to the wine and gold throughout his career.
“It was an incredible four years and when you first get hit with it, there is a level of hurt,” Altman said. “You’re hurt because of what you went through for the four years with him and what he meant to us. But I was extremely thankful, at the same time. I realize what we accomplished this year and the last four years and we did a lot. I mean, it was four incredible years led by him and I’m very thankful for the years he gave our team, this organization, and the city
“Obviously initially, you’re disappointed because you lose a player at the level of LeBron James,” Altman said. “There’s no easy way to recover from that. But at the same time, I was very, very thankful and obviously, we wish him the best.”
There were rumors that James wasn’t going to meet with any team, allowing them to give a pitch in order for the King to join their team, or for the Cavs, to stay with their team. When free agency began at 12:01 a.m. ET on July 1, though, Altman, James, and his agent, Rich Paul, shared a phone call. He believed that Cleveland still had a chance to retain James, who, after declining his player option, was the most sought-after free agent since the last time he was on the open market.
“At that time, [we] thought we were still in the mix, obviously,” Altman said. “I think he was still going through his decision-making process. But found out sort of like you guys found out.”
While the details of that conversation are not known, it seems as though No. 23 already had his decision made up. Following that call, No. 23 met with Magic Johnson in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t know that was going on,” Altman said. “I didn’t know that was going on.”
Now, Altman has his hands full with trying to figure out the best way to maximize the future of the Cavs without the best basketball player in the world.